Alexa The Challenger Sales Model: a winning formula

How Effective is the Challenger Sales Model in Leading Customer Conversations?

Sales | by Steve Conway
How Effective is the Challenger Sales Model in Leading Customer Conversations

While most of the sales strategies prioritize “relationship building” as a key aspect of the sales process, unfortunately, it is not. A Gartner study reveals that a majority of customers make a purchase decision after thorough product research. Ideally, they do not need a sales rep to give them options regarding what they should buy. And, that’s where a Challenger Sales Model thrives.

Decoding Challenger Sales Model

Buyers these days already have preconceived notions. Thanks to the world of the web that exposes them to a plethora of choices. But, it’s practically overwhelming to decide what serves them best among so many choices. Here, comes the challenger sales process, where the rep takes control of the conversation by teaching prospects what works best for them. In short, a challenger sales rep talks about “why” instead of “what”.

A Sales Process that Thrives on “Challenging” Customers

In a world where choices are endless, B2B Sales gets ahead with a challenger model undoubtedly. It’s about challenging your prospects, where the customer interactions are entirely designed to disrupt their current thinking.

According to the Vice President of Advisory, Gartner, Mr. Brent Adamson, “it’s not about selling anymore. Rather it’s about educating your prospects what works best and the choice is all theirs”. Today, the key to B2B sales hinges on delivering insights that align with the customer’s goals. More than 150% of the buying decisions are driven by “ high-quality, low regret” deals, and the challenger sales process instills that confidence in the customers.

Types of Sales Profile and What Sets Apart the Challengers

The majority of the revenue in a B2B setting is driven by the challengers, says the Gartner report. To figure out what sets apart a star performer, Gartner ran a survey on 6000 sales professionals globally. The data received from the survey clearly defines that there are five different types of sales profiles based on the sales process and specific skillset.

Following image will clearly figure out the difference:

Hard Worker Relationship Builder Lone Wolf Problem Solver Challenger
  • Super motivated
  • Seeks feedback at every level
  • Work hard to convince a customer
  • Nurture customer
  • Focus on building customer loyalty
  • Makes a great customer advocate
  • Relies on hunches and instincts
  • Self-assured
  • Works independently
  • Detailed oriented
  • Extremely focused and reliable
  • Always up for solving problems
  • Have thorough understanding of customers’ preference
  • Debate and challenges
  • Absolute go-getter

Source: Gartner

The role of a Challenger Sales rep is to push the customers from their comfort zone and consider a new perspective. B2B sales rely more on the challengers in recent times, because they can effortlessly place a new product in the market, and build their brand identity as well as a customer base. And, everything in a shorter period. By the time, a relationship builder successfully engages with his customers, a challenger closes the deal.

Moreover, the Challenger Sales process always identifies an unknown problem in the customers’ business, which otherwise remained unidentifiable so far. A challenger works on uniquely positioning the issue so that it can be solved accordingly.

Why Challenger Sales Formula Wins

“Challenger” itself denotes “something that challenges”. In this case, it is the buyer’s preconceived notion. Today, it’s all about the customer experiences that determine their loyalty to a brand. The brand name, products, or service are no more the prime drivers behind purchase decisions. Instead, it’s the experience that you deliver. Undoubtedly, this change in shopping behavior makes things more complex.

Challengers are super successful in this complex scenario as they are adept at taking control of the purchase conversation at every level. The idea is to lead customers in such a way so that they can explore the unique strengths of their organization.

A Gartner study reveals that the Challenger sales model is responsible for 54% of the total revenue of any organization and the other four types of Sales professionals account for the remaining 46%.

Gartner - Percentage of high performers in complex sales by profile

Challenger reps leverage the customers’ understanding of their businesses to deliver new insights and push them to contemplate new ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Maybe the existing product the customer is using is not that cost-effective. A challenger finds such loopholes in the business and directly identifies the same that the customer hadn’t previously considered.

A challenger sales rep then provides a solution in a way that builds customers’ trust and eventually he makes a purchase decision. Contrary to the Relationship Builder, Challengers can effectively build constructive tension, following which a customer is convinced to make the purchase.

Adopting Challenger Sales Process- 5-Steps Guide

A Challenger immediately taps into the prospect’s worst fears and eventually positions it uniquely along with the solution. It not only creates a positive impact on the customers but also gives them high hopes for the solution. At this point, the purchase decision is partially made. Also, driven by a high adrenaline rush, a Challenger sale gives every company its maximum revenue.

Here’s how a business can adopt a challenger methodology. Follow this five-step guide.

Step #1 Warm-up prospects
Introduce your prospects to the problems they are facing. Most of the time, prospects are completely unaware of the problems. A challenger’s job role is to warm up the prospects by telling them about these hidden loopholes. To achieve this, opt for comprehensive research of the ideal target customer. Get data on their pain points, challenges, and needs as well as the products they are using recently.
At this phase, the discussion of a product never comes up. Instead, the conversation mostly revolves around the prospect’s problem. The idea is to get the prospect curious and craving for a solution.

For example, your prospect is using a CRM system that’s traditional and outdated, if considered from today’s perspective. While the traditional system replaces the manual tasks, maybe it exposes the business to a security breach. A challenger talks about this problem and gets the customer curious about a solution that matches their budget as well as their needs.

Step #2 Reframe the conversation
You are already aware of your prospect’s biggest problem in the previous phase. At this phase, a challenger will reframe the pain point to create an opportunity for growth.

What happens most of the time is a prospect brooding over the problems, but intensely lacks the plan to solve them. That’s the golden opportunity for the challenger to position the solution. For example, your prospect must have talked a lot about the risk of security breaches while using an outdated CRM solution. But, with so many options in the market, he is again perplexed about making a choice.

As a challenger, you can run solution-focused conversations and eliminate misconceptions about your products. The moment you steer the conversation right toward the appropriate solution, you are creating an impact. Remember, you are not making a sale at this point, but rather evoking curiosity about something which they cannot solve all by themselves.

Step #3 Create emotion
As already mentioned, customer not only buys features or advantages. There are so many products in the market offering the same kind of benefits and features. What your customers buy is the “emotion” or “ experience”. Even in B2B sales, emotions play a vital role to determine a purchase decision.

The role of a challenger sales rep is to create emotion by leveraging storytelling as a sales tool. You can either tell them what’s great about your solutions or tell a true story about how your product has helped some other customers of yours. A challenger opts for the latter and a relationship builder or problem solver will choose the first method.

Step #4 Highlight your value proposition
For all the sales profiles, this step is quite similar, though a challenger does it a little differently. The prime focus of a challenger is to educate the customer regarding what an ideal solution looks like without even talking about the product. It’s the perfect time to sell your idea because your prospect is already convinced. Keep on guiding your prospects about the possibilities for solving their problem by using techniques that reframe their perspective.

For example, if your customer is unsure about making a decision, your job is to open up his mind by explaining the advantages of the solutions. Real-life stories and case studies help in these scenarios. Tell them what the future will look like if they adopt this solution and help them arrive at a decision.

Step #5 Place the product
The easiest phase is introducing the product. By this time, your prospect is already convinced and you have successfully made an impact on the customers. So far, you’ve identified or discovered the prospect’s problem, reframed it, gained their trust, and already ran a solution-focused conversation. It’s time to introduce the product. Many customers won’t even care to ask about the brand name and the product itself, because he has already bought the “ experience”.

Master the Challenger Sales Techniques

  • Identify the prospect’s problem as a unique growth opportunity
  • Present a solution instead of selling the same. Talk about the ways it can solve their problems
  • Challenge the customers and make them contemplate the new solution.
  • While closing the deal, never negotiate on the price point. Because negotiations often lead to a misconception that the product is not worth the price. It affects the qualitative value of the product.

Does the Challenger Model Work

Well, the data reveals the fact. Here’s a look at the latest available data about the efficiency of the Challenger Sales Model in a B2B business landscape.

  • 40% of the revenue generators are using the Challenger style , unlike the other sales process, published in the book called “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson
  • Only 7% of sales professional relies on relationship building in the complex sales process.
  • Over 50% of expert performers mix the challenger model in their existing sales process.

Wrapping Up

These days the sales process is becoming way more complex than it was a couple of years back. Customers nowadays make an informed choice while buying a product or service. They do their own research before connecting with a sales rep. In this complex scenario, brands depend on the Challenger Sales model to close deals.

Today, it’s more important to teach your customers that the choice they have made may not be an ideal one. Maybe they need something that addresses their needs and preferences in a more streamlined manner. A challenger does it right and transforms your prospects into loyal customers.

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